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José Francisco Borges, or J. Borges, as he is known and likes to be called, lives and works in Bezerros, Pernambuco, Brazil where he was born in 1935. He is a self-taught woodcarver, woodblock printer and poet who started as an itinerant peddler of home-made illustrated chapbooks addressing popular themes, folktales and legends native to the impoverished Northeast ("Sertão") of Brazil of which his region is part. This unique art form - "Literatura de cordel" (string literature) consists of written verses and woodblock prints illustrating the rhymed stories. Traditionally, the "literatura de cordel" booklets were sold at country fairs or popular rural markets where they hung from a piece of string (cordel) or clothesline. These long, narrative poems with their woodcut illustrations on the cover, often done by the poet himself, were sung out loud to a mostly illiterate rural population. The traditional themes (romances, fantastic stories, animal fables, religious traditions) and themes based on current events, famous people or politicians, can be hilarious, romantic, satirical, and even racy. More recently, cordel booklets are also sold in Brazil’s big cities where much of the rural population of the Sertão has migrated. At the same time, woodblock prints illustrating the booklets have been produced in larger formats and are sold separately, often to collectors. On occasions the woodblocks themselves are sold to collectors.
José Francisco Borges (J. Borges) has become the most famous of Brazil's cordel artists. His works were featured in the 1992 exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City: "Visiones del Pueblo – The Folk Art of Latin America" and in an exhibition at the San Antonio Museum of Art. In addition to the exhibition catalog for "Visiones del Pueblo", Borges' pieces have been published in "Brasilien - Entdeckung und Selbstentdeckung", Benteli Verlag Bern, Zurich 1992 which dedicated an entire chapter to him; and in many other books. He illustrated "Palabras Andantes" by Eduardo Galeano (English edition; "Walking Words", 1995). A volume of Borges' own poetry, illustrated by his woodcuts, was published in Brazil in 1993 as "Poesia e Gravura de J. Borges".
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